A family curse unfolds in pleasant countryside of Tuscany

August 26, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Forget the art film reputation of the Taviani brothers: Their new movie "Fiorile" is the oldest and clankiest of pop conventions, the family curse movie.

Romantic and sweeping, the film, which opens today at the Charles, follows the poor Benedetti family through several generations, after bumbling into the greatest windfall in history, only to be followed in the worst luck in history.

In present day Italy, a Franco- fied Italian and his French family are driving through the Tuscan countryside, and he begins to talk to his two children about the past. As he talks, the eyes of the kids light up, and they stare out at the lush countryside; the camera wanders through the fields, and suddenly it's the 1790s.

In that era, in the supposed spirit of Republicanism, Napoleon's French army invaded Italy to overthrow the aristocrats who run Tuscany. Major mistake: they bring a trunkful of gold with them. A guerrilla engagement is fought and the donkey with the golden millions aboard wanders away. It is found by a Benedetti brother (Claudio Bigagli), just as a Benedetti sister (Galataea Ranzi) is discovering and falling in love with the young French lieutenant who lost the gold. Their night together is enough to establish the strain of Francoism that will run through the Benedetti generations. But he is caught by his own army and an edict is issued: if the gold isn't returned, the young officer will be shot.

There you have it: the love of a woman or the wealth of a family. If you want to know what they do, ask yourself: what would you do? There, now you have an answer.

A hundred years later the Benedettis are the richest family in Tuscany, but once again a drama of love vs. money will be played out, when young Elisa (Ranzi again) falls in love with a peasant, much to the chagrin of her politically ambitious brother Alessandro (Bigagli again). The brother again makes the same choice. However, over the ensuing century, the sister has learned a thing or two, and feeds him, in retaliation, a nice wild mushroom snack. Bye-bye brother.

The curse has yet more ramifications. It skips a generation, then strikes a young intellectual in Fascist Italy, who joins the resistance with devastating consequences and comes to believe the only safety for those he loves is to hide in the country, completely isolated. It is to this house where the family in the frame story is headed.

The film, which is based on an authentic Tuscan legend, is cleverly structured as it follows the track of the curse into modern times and watches its impact on the traveling family. Still, handsome and amusing though it is, "Fiorile" will never be confused with the great work of the Tavianis, such as "Padre Padrone" and "The Night of the Shooting Stars." But for what it is, a legend dressed up as a movie, it's quite enjoyable.

'Fiorile'

Starring Claudio Bigagli and Galatea Ranzi

Directed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani

Released by Fine Line

Unrated

** 1/2

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